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Plan carves out 11,000 acres for ‘ice age park’

A swath of the north Las Vegas Valley that was home to Columbian mammoths and other animals from the ice ages would be preserved under a Bureau of Land Management plan.

The BLM’s preferred plan would set aside more than 11,000 acres in the Upper Las Vegas Wash in a “conservation transfer area.” That proposal, Alternative B, is one of six, preserving from 13,000 acres to fewer than 1,500 acres, outlined in a draft environmental impact statement. The BLM will hold three public meetings on the plan this month.

The bureau’s proposals are smaller than the 25,000 to 30,000 acres that advocates for an “ice age park” or “fossil beds national monument” had called for in October.

But they are pleased that a sizeable area is targeted for protection from development and that hope exists a larger area could be designated by Congress or the president as an urban national monument in the future.

“We’re very happy with the EIS (environmental impact statement),” Lynn Davis, manager of the Nevada Field Office of the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, said Monday. “The public will comment on the EIS, but that doesn’t constrain local government entities or the congressional delegation from saying, ‘Here’s how we want the national monument’s boundaries drawn.'”

Hundreds of fossilized remains from mammoths, jaguars, camels, horses, sloths and bears poke from chalklike soils left by ancient springs in the Upper Las Vegas Wash. Researchers have recorded 436 fossil sites at or near the surface within the study area and two nearby locations, according to the impact statement.

The potential to uncover many more exists. That means the area could be turned in to a research destination for scientists who would attempt to unlock some of the mysteries about what led to extinction of these large animals from the ice ages, some of which roamed the area as long as 200,000 years ago.

“What the study has done is confirmed the area of significance, but they haven’t established the boundaries,” Davis said.

“The public can basically comment on the study. They can say, ‘We’d like to see the area preserved up to the training range,'” she said, referring to Air Force training range at the valley’s north end.

Davis said the study area is suitable for a monument administered by the National Park Service, which has experience in managing fossil beds.

BLM spokeswoman Hillerie Patton said the agency is not planning on transferring the land to another agency, but that would be possible “later on down the line.”

“No one really came forward and offered to manage this as an interpretative site,” Patton said.

The conservation transfer area also will protect sensitive species such as buckwheat and bearpoppy plants.

And it would protect a military aircraft flight path from encroachment of development between Nellis Air Force Base, Creech Air Force Base and the training ranges north of the valley.

According to the 300-page impact document, more than 370 acres would be available for North Las Vegas to develop. The preferred alternative includes lands to the north and east of the Paiute reservation to protect tribal resources in Upper Las Vegas Wash.

But the document said that the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe prefers Alternative A, which protects almost 2,000 additional acres and is better suited for meeting the tribe’s goals for preservation and cultural use of the landscape.

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